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  • Archive for the 'Arts & Letters' Category

    Our only enemy was gold

    Posted by Margaret on 21st September 2017 (All posts by )

    I’ve always thought Edwin Muir’s poem ‘The Castle,’ like Burns’ ‘Parcel of Rogues,’ referred to the Acts of Union of 1707. Many Scots considered the union of Scotland and England to be a corrupt bargain in which Scottish nobles and landowners who’d been ruined by the Darien scheme were bailed out with English money in return for signing over Scotland’s independence. (I don’t want to argue the merits of that theory; historians have been batting it around for four hundred years without reaching agreement. I just want to point out that the attitude exists.)

    It did just occur to me recently that there could be another, slightly anachronistic interpretation of the poem. If Edwin Muir had been given a glimpse of Scotland’s condition today and the destructive effects of welfare dependency, he might have written exactly the same poem. For generations Scotland was a poor country whose greatest natural resource was its people and their devotion to education. They educated their young people and sent them out all over the world, and as George MacDonald Fraser said, “A Scotsman on the make is a terrible thing.”

    The expansion of the welfare state has eroded that, perhaps fatally.

    All through that summer at ease we lay,
    And daily from the turret wall
    We watched the mowers in the hay
    And the enemy half a mile away
    They seemed no threat to us at all.

    For what, we thought, had we to fear
    With our arms and provender, load on load,
    Our towering battlements, tier on tier,
    And friendly allies drawing near
    On every leafy summer road.

    Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
    So smooth and high, no man could win
    A foothold there, no clever trick
    Could take us, have us dead or quick.
    Only a bird could have got in.

    What could they offer us for bait?
    Our captain was brave and we were true….
    There was a little private gate,
    A little wicked wicket gate.
    The wizened warder let them through.

    Oh then our maze of tunneled stone
    Grew thin and treacherous as air.
    The cause was lost without a groan,
    The famous citadel overthrown,
    And all its secret galleries bare.

    How can this shameful tale be told?
    I will maintain until my death
    We could do nothing, being sold;
    Our only enemy was gold,
    And we had no arms to fight it with.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Britain, Culture, History, Poetry | 8 Comments »

    Summer Rerun – Book Review: That Hideous Strength

    Posted by David Foster on 15th September 2017 (All posts by )

    (people tend to think of summer as being over after Labor Day, but actually, it extends until the September Equinox, which this year is on September 22)

    That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

    This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.

    Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.”  What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:

    The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past.  One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.

    Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people.  It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all.  But for those who do not accept those standards…

    The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:

    “Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”

    Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.

    Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury.  One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:

    “Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.”  Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was.  And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention?  Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.

    Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:

    “I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”

    “You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–“

    “There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”

    Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them.  The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes.  At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved  with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.)  The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.

    I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.

    Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context.  The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:

    After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.

    It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.

    That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform.  Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 13 Comments »

    Statue On Courthouse Square…

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 15th August 2017 (All posts by )

    For now, it remains at the corner of Courthouse Square, in San Marcos, Texas.

    Took this picture Saturday afternoon as we were getting ready to pack up from a monthly art market. It’s of John Coffee “Jack” Hays, the famous Texas ranger commander. As a straight, white, gun-toting male oppressor of Comanche Indians in Texas, and being that San Marcos is a college town, I wonder how long until the protests to take the statue down begin, given recent events and demands by the social justice crowd to purge statues of this kind from public spaces.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Current Events, Photos | 10 Comments »

    Saturday at the Movies: A Review of Dunkirk

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd July 2017 (All posts by )

    I took it into my head to see Dunkirk in a movie theater on the opening weekend. I don’t think I have done since the early nineties (when we returned from Spain, where movies showed at the base theater six months to a year after premiering.) The last time I saw a movie in an actual theater, instead of at home on DVD or on streaming video was – if memory serves – The Kings’ Speech, in 2010, or it may have been The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2013. We saw the latter in an Alamo Drafthouse cinema, notable for being set up in a civilized manner to serve tasty adult beverages before and during the showing, as well as equally tasty entrees. They also have a positively Soup-Naziesque attitude about talking, texting, ringing cellphones and children disturbing the movie experience – an attitude of which I regretfully approve. One toot on yer flute, or on your cellie, and you’re oot, as the saying about the woman in the Scottish cinema with a hearing horn used to go. Adding to the charm of the experience – you can book a ticket for a specific seat and showing through their website, and pay for it online in advance. Print out your ticket on your home printer, waltz into the theater at the appointed time – and yes, this is one thing I do like about the 21st century.
    Back to the movie. The necessary trailers for upcoming releases reminded me powerfully about why I have not been to a movie theater for a movie since 2010 or 2013, especially a trailer for a superhero concoction called The Justice League. No, sorry; so much my not-cuppa-tea that I wouldn’t move two feet off a rock ledge to watch it, or anything else there was a trailer for. Fortunately, the pre-feature features were few and relatively brief.
    Then to the main feature, which began very quietly, with a half-dozen British squaddies wandering down a narrow street on the outskirts of Dunkirk, under a fluttering of German propaganda leaflets … which set the situation as it exists, and supplies one of the young soldiers, appropriately named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), with a supply of toilet paper. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Current Events, Film, History | 37 Comments »

    Worthwhile Watching

    Posted by David Foster on 16th July 2017 (All posts by )

    A good video on the women who flew military aircraft in Britain during WWII.  Title is a little misleading, lots of airplane types other than Spitfires were involved.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Britain, History, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Freedom and Fear

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd June 2017 (All posts by )

    (Working on a fresh new history trivia post, delayed in completing by … whatever. Real life, completing the next book. This reprise post is from 2011.)

    I started following what I called “The Affair of the Danish Mo-Toons” way back at the very beginning of that particular imbroglio, followed by the ruckus last year over “Everybody Draw Mohammad” and now we seem to have moved on to the Charlie Hebdo fiasco – a French satirical magazine dared to poke fun at the founder of Islam … by putting a cartoon version on the cover of their latest issue, with the result that their offices were firebombed. I think at this point it would have been fair to assume that representatives of the Religion of Peace would respond in a not-quite-so peaceful manner, so all props for the Charlie Hebdo management for even going ahead with it – for even thinking of standing up for freedom of thought, freedom of a press, even freedom to take the piss out of a target.  (The following is what I wrote last year – still relevant to this latest case) Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, France, Islam | 11 Comments »

    Sabo

    Posted by Lexington Green on 21st June 2017 (All posts by )

    The very awesome Sabo is interviewed in the very pathetic Guardian. Bravo to him for going into the den of the enemy. They did not land a glove on him, though they tried in their feeble whining way.  

    Sabo has a punk rock sensibility, which the above image from him demonstrates. Those of us of a certain age and youthful inclination will recognize it right away.

    Sabo is responsible for many images that attack the left with a scurrilousness and force that is wholly appropriate to the scale and malice of the provocation. Sabo is famous for putting up posters all over Los Angeles which affront the lefty sensibilities of the inhabitants — Like this one:

    His website, Unsavory Agents, is here. He does good, and funny, work. You may want to buy some of his stuff.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Leftism, Media, Politics | 10 Comments »

    Intimidation, Conformity, and Cowardice in American Academia

    Posted by David Foster on 11th May 2017 (All posts by )

    I have previously mentioned an incident described in the memoirs of Tom Watson Jr, longtime CEO of IBM.

    There was a moment when I truly thought IBM was going to lose its shot at defense work because of the kind of window blinds I had in my office.

    These were vertical blinds, which were not common at the time. An engineer who was in Watson’s office for a meeting made a sketch of the blinds, and inadvertently left it in his shirt pocket when he took the shirt to the dry cleaner. The laundry man thought the paper looked suspicious, and sent it to Senator McCarthy. Pretty soon, a group of investigators came and said to the engineer, “We’ve identified this as a plan for a radar antenna, and want to hear about it. We want to be perfectly fair. But we know it is a radar antenna and the shirt it was found in belongs to you.”

    The engineer explained about the vertical blinds, and the investigation team then asked to see Watson. The chief executive officer of IBM showed them the blinds and demonstrated the way they worked.

    They looked them over very carefully and then left. I thought I had contained it, but I wasn’t sure, and I was scared. We were working on SAGE (the computerized air defense system–ed) and it would have been a hell of a way to lose our security clearance.

    Shortly after the incident with the vertical blinds, Watson was invited to a lunch at Lehman Brothers, along with about 20 other high-ranking businesspeople. During the lunch, he mentioned his concerns about McCarthyism:

    Of the twenty-odd people present, I was the only one who took that position. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the following week I got letters from several people who had been there, and they all had a similar message: “I didn’t want to commit myself in public, but I certainly agreed with everything you said.”

    I was reminded of this story once again by the current academic ragestorm involving the work of Professor Rebecca Tuvel.  And, just as with Watson’s experience during the McCarthy era, what is particularly disturbing is that there are apparently a lot of people who don’t like what has been happening…but are afraid to say so.

    And who is Professor Tuvel and what is the ragestorm about, you may ask?  Tuvel is an assistant professor of philosophy at Memphis College; you can see her teaching and research interests at the link.  Recently she published an article entitled “In Defense of Transracialism” in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.  A writer at Inside Higher Ed summarizes:

    The article explores whether there might be parallels between being transgender and being transracial, focusing specifically on the well-known case of Rachel Dolezal, who is white but presented herself as black for many years.

    Tuvel’s argument is that the very same reasons that might justify an individual’s decision to change sexes could also be used to justify an individual’s decision to change races — so if one is committed to the acceptability of the former (as Tuvel herself is), then one would be committed to the acceptability of the latter.

    And then the ragestorm broke:

    Shortly after the paper was published in the spring 2017 edition of Hypatia, an open letter with signatures but no author appeared on the internet soliciting further signatures. The letter called for Tuvel’s paper to be retracted by the journal, stating that “its continued availability causes further harm.”

    This open letter is now closed to further signatures and has been sent to the editor of Hypatia. While the open letter was still circulating, a statement appeared on the Hypatia website repudiating the article and making multiple references to the harms caused by the article’s publication. The statement has no signatures but is credited to “A majority of the Hypatia board of associate editors.”

    “The harms caused by the article’s publication” sounds like an argument that would have been made by the Inquisition in support of burning someone at the stake for unauthorized theological writing, or the arguments that were frequently made by Nazi and Soviet courts when calling for the execution of those who had disseminated forbidden political and social views.

    A recent New York Magazine article, This is what a modern-day witch hunt looks like,  argues that many of the assertions by Tuvel’s ‘critics’ (way too mild a word in this context) are based on a mischaracterization of what she actually wrote.  And this piece asserts that the over-the-top reaction has caused serious damage to Tuvel’s career…”How can Prof. Tuvel, for example, now use this repudiated but allegedly peer-reviewed article as part of her tenure process?   Indeed, how can her department or college support her for tenure when she has been so vilified as a scholar and professional by people who work in her fields?”…and suggests that these attacks may rise to the level of defamation in the legal sense.

    My main concern here is not whether Tuvel’s work is good or bad (read it for yourself here, if you’re so inclined, not sure how much longer it will stay up before the bit-burners get it)…indeed, I question the value of the whole subdiscipline encompassing this work and that of many of its critics), but the vitriolic tone of the attacks which in my view clearly inhibit intellectual exploration and and the ability to freely and (individually or collectively) play with ideas…which things are supposed to be primary reasons for the existence of academia…in favor of the dead hand of conformity.  And what is particularly disturbing…and closely echoes Tom Watson’s experiences during the McCarthy era…is this:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Leftism, Philosophy | 28 Comments »

    Is This Really the Ukraine?

    Posted by Ginny on 2nd May 2017 (All posts by )

    A few years ago, Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands was both popular and esteemed. I found it an uncomfortable but powerful read. I mentioned it and two students – a Russian Jewish student whose grandfather had fought in the Russian army, been tortured in one of the Russian purges, but died loyal to Stalin and a student whose ancestors were from those borderlands ordered it. (My mention was cursory; it was after all American lit; both were hungry to know more about the obscure world of their ancestors.) I gave it to a son-in-law, who had heard Snyder discussing it with intensity and even despair. I can remember discussing passages with colleagues in philosophy and history – especially lies spoken and assented to as the truth stood (and died) before their eyes: families starved, Stalin argued, to sabotage Stalin. Snyder’s aim and success was to make that unreal world and its victims live. He eloquently countered the great arrogance of Stalin’s assumption (so often proved true) that a million deaths was merely a statistic. Of course it was futile – no one person can make millions live on a page. An intense experience to read, Snyder’s research must have truly looked into the abyss. Today, I tracked references at Chicagoboyz; several praised it. I haven’t read his later works. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Anti-Americanism, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Russia, Trump | 21 Comments »

    To Kipple or Not?

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th April 2017 (All posts by )

    Some time ago and in another blog-post I wondered if it were possible for those with conservative and libertarian leanings to develop some kind of secret password, or handshake with which to identify themselves to new-met acquaintances who might possibly share those inclinations. We tend to be polite, do not relish open confrontation – and really, why pick unnecessary fights with neighbors, casually-met strangers, distant kin, or fellow workers? Most times, it just is not worth the hassle, or the chance of turning a casual social interaction or relationship turning toxic. Most of us do not eat, sleep, dream, live politics twenty-four-seven, anyway. But it certainly is pleasant to discover someone of like sympathies, usually after a few rounds of warily sounding them out, and assuring them that no, we will not come unglued if they confess to having voted for or liked (insert political figure or philosophy here).

    But I think that I have hit upon a handy shorthand method for discerning the political sympathies of another without coming outright and asking. This insight came about through following a couple of libertarian-leaning or conservative blogs – Sarah Hoyt and Wretchard at Belmont Club being two of the more notable – and noting that the principals and many of their commenters all seemed au courant with Kipling. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Miscellaneous, Politics | 33 Comments »

    Freedom and the American Character

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd April 2017 (All posts by )

    I was thinking, for some reason, about the old Cole Porter song Don’t Fence Me In.  It’s not all that good of a song, IMO–but it does express a chafing at restriction that most people would once have agreed was a core aspect of the American character.

    Now, however, I’m not so sure.  Seems to me a lot of people–especially but not only on college campuses–are asking to be fenced in, and are looking at hobbles not negatively but with admiration.

    Questions for discussion:

    –Has individual freedom indeed become a less-important value to Americans (in general) over recent decades?

    –If so, what are the drivers of this change?…and what are the implications?

    –Was Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor right about human nature?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Music, USA | 30 Comments »

    A Classical Education in the Azores

    Posted by David Foster on 12th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Here’s a very interesting article by a Portuguese teacher who developed and ran an intensive classical-studies program for high school students in the Azores Islands.  Highly recommended.

    Meanwhile, back in the USA.

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, History | 8 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Tillman’s Poetry Corner: Flanders Fields

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th January 2017 (All posts by )

    This is interesting:

    John McCrae’s Flanders Fields is iconic. No more need be said. Unfortunately, its meaning has been distorted by the most popular voice and instrumental accompaniment. This new reading of the poem has transformed Flanders Fields’ meaning. My guess is that this metamorphosis was unintentional, but one and all should work to recover the original public meaning.

    Read the rest.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Culture, History, Poetry, Rhetoric | 1 Comment »

    A Christmas Eve Story: Father Christmas and the Provost

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 24th December 2016 (All posts by )

    (This is a short-story version of an episode in Adelsverein: The Sowing, which I reworked as a free-standing Christmas story a good few years ago, for a collection of short stories. The scene; the Texas Hill country during the Civil War – a war in which many residents of the Hill Country were reluctant to participate, as they had abolitionist leanings, had not supported secession … and had quite enough to do with defending themselves against raiding Indians anyway.)

    It was Vati’s idea to have a splendid Christmas Eve and he broached it to his family in November. Christian Friedrich Steinmetz to everyone else but always Vati to his family; once the clockmaker of Ulm in Bavaria, Vati had come to Texas with the Verein nearly twenty years before with his sons and his three daughters. “For the children, of course,” he said, polishing his glasses and looking most particularly like an earnest and kindly gnome, “This year past has been so dreadful, such tragedies all around – but it is within our capabilities to give them a single good memory of 1862! I shall arrange for Father Christmas to make a visit, and we shall have as fine a feast as we ever did, back in Germany. Can we not do this, my dears?”
    “How splendid, Vati! Oh, we shall, we shall!” his youngest daughter Rosalie kissed her father’s cheek with her usual degree of happy exuberance, “With the house full of children – even the babies will have a wonderful memory, I am sure!” Her older sisters, Magda and Liesel exchanged fond but exasperated glances; dear, vague well-meaning Vati!
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Deep Thoughts, Diversions | 3 Comments »

    A Week of Thanksgiving

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 24th November 2016 (All posts by )

    Today is Thanksgiving Day; my daughter and I will share a feast of delightfully orange-flavored brined turkey breast (a recipe lifted from the current issue of Cuisine at Home) plus some sides; as a small dish of baked stuffing using some heels of pumpernickel bread from the bounteously-stuffed garage deep-freeze, oven-roasted Brussel sprouts, garlic mashed potatoes, all served with a dash of the lingonberry sauce from the jar I purchased last weekend from the Ikea grocery department – it tastes very much like cranberry sauce anyway — and finished off with a slice of pumpkin pie, baked this week. The enduring trouble that I have with Thanksgiving is that I don’t much like most of the traditional dishes. Of those that I do, I don’t want to eat leftovers of them from now until past mid-December. Seriously, in many years, I was so tired of sorting out the remainders of a whole turkey I would choose anything else vaguely birdlike for the main entrée, and for Christmas, practically anything else. On some years when it would be just me, I threw tradition to the winds and did a tiny half-pound frozen poulet from HEB Central Market, or a rock Cornish game hen, accompanied by the traditional autumnal dishes that I did like. (These solitary dinners were a treat for me; single servings of exotic and/or expensive dishes that I would never have sampled otherwise.)

    Yes, I did some Thanksgiving days with just me, myself, and I, contra every existing holiday tradition. I experienced some uncomfortable Thanksgiving Day dinners at the houses of acquaintances, but the worst of them was an excruciating dinner wherein I with preschool daughter in tow had been invited by my military supervisor to share his familial table … except that he had somehow forgotten to tell his spouse until the very last minute that he had invited us. Her resentment was a palpable thing, hovering over the table like a fog and curdling every bite that I took. That was the year that I resolved to break no bread on Thanksgiving with any but blood family; if it meant only the two of us or myself alone, then so be it. I did manage to get home for that traditional dinner with blood relatives now and again – which varied the solitary meal program to some degree.

    Besides, sometimes the Thanksgiving holiday was an opportunity to do serious work – the year that I replaced the back fence myself, and ate my supper mid-project from a tray (the tiny poulet year) sitting in the living room and regarding the fence in mid-project. This year is no different, with substantial projects in mid-accomplishment: we have the three-day market event in Johnson City to prepare for; the full-on display of the pavilion, with Christmas lights, special displays and three days’ worth of stock; my books, her earrings. This is a huge event – justifying some preparations above and beyond the usual. Christmas dinner will mark the real end and celebration for us – another year, well-done.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, Culture, Current Events, Diversions | 9 Comments »

    “The Thucydides Roundtable”

    Posted by Jonathan on 27th October 2016 (All posts by )

    Ongoing at Zenpundit.

    Posted in Announcements, Arts & Letters, History, Military Affairs | Comments Off on “The Thucydides Roundtable”

    Turning and Twisting in the Gyre

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 22nd October 2016 (All posts by )

    I am currently torn three ways, between the start of the holiday market season for myself and my daughter’s various enterprises, my own blogging and writing, and a book project for a Watercress Press client. The book project is to do with local history, and a particularly contentious event during the Civil War – in Texas. Even as far west of the Mississippi as Texas was, from the main theater of war, some comparatively minor skirmishes in the first Civil War took place in Texas. And the final battle, and surrender of the last hold-out Confederate command took place down on the Rio Grande, and the very last Union Army casualty fell in that Texas fight. But that is stuff for history trivia contests. (The answers are, FYI, the battle of Palmito Ranch, and Private John J. Williams, of the 34th Indiana.)

    The book project has a fair amount of my attention, as it touches on a local history matter featured in my own books – but in the interesting coincidence of the Tiny Publishing Bidness having published some of the local history books noted as sources, or citing local historians whom I have met or have had something to do with; the late Rev. Ken Knopp, James Kearney, and Jefferson Morganthaler, most notably – and referring to many of the sources that I read as research for the Adelsverein Trilogy. This book that I am working on now caps a series which can only be produced by a writer/researcher involved to the point of intense – yea, even fanatical interest – in a specific Civil War event. Seriously, Colonel Paul Burrier (USA, Ret.) has gone back into the archives of various establishments and re-published at his expense just about every relevant document there is to find in national and state archives regarding the locally infamous incident memorialized by the True to the Union monument in Comfort, Texas.

    I’ve written here and there about the Nueces Fight/Battle/Massacre here, here, and there…and how the peculiar situation in the Hill Country of Texas – well-stocked with Abolitionist, pro-Union inclinations – generated a bitter civil war-within a civil war. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous | 17 Comments »

    Nobels & Dylan

    Posted by Ginny on 15th October 2016 (All posts by )

    In the mid-sixties, Bob Dylan’s music was the soundtrack to our lives. Now, in 2016, he’ll receive a Nobel. In that half century he’s become central to later generations and in other ways. But between the years when “everyone” quoted Childs numbers and when the Beatles took America by storm, Dylan’s voice was important. The folk singer who lived upstairs in ’65 patterned his style – music, clothes, harmonicas – after Dylan, placing roses on the stage at Pershing when Dylan played Lincoln; another friend wrote poems filled with Dylan allusions, murmuring Mr. Tambourine Man. Dylan did Nashville Skyline; in Chicago, watching him on Johnny Cash, I began to love country: a less surreal, more seductive Dylan singing Lay Lady Lay. In 1975 Austin, newly married, we bought Blood on the Tracks, with “Shelter from the Storm”

    And in 2016, he will stand another stage. His website is workmanlike; in his mid seventies, his tours continue. The “News” section doesn’t (tonight) have the Nobel listed. It’s hard to put my memories of a man who seemed to speak for and to lost boys in the context of his (and our) maturity, of all those years and all his work between then and now. For me, he remains fixed in the past, mine is ambivalence and nostalgia, but that larger, longer public context: Washington Post; Wall Street Journal; New York Times.

    If Dylan didn’t touch your life, Sohrab Ahmari’s take on one who did might be worth comment. Seven years has produced a world a less smug and ahistorical vision would have foreseen.

    Discuss?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Music, Personal Narrative, Poetry | 12 Comments »

    Friday Diversion: The Launch of Luna City 3.1

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd September 2016 (All posts by )

    Yes – just this week, we have launched the third of the Luna City Chronicles – there will be at least two more, and possibly beyond, as it is a fun series to write and readers seem to enjoy them immensely.
    Behold the cover –

    9780989782272-Perfect.indd

    Luna City 3.1 is available on Amazon for Kindle and in print (although the cover image doesn’t show, yet) and on Barnes & Noble.

    As a bonus – a short snippet of a chapter –
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Arts & Letters, Book Notes | 5 Comments »

    Faustian Ambition (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 21st August 2016 (All posts by )

    A post on ambition at another blog (in 2010) , which included a range of quotations on the subject, inspired me to think that I might be able to write an interesting essay on the topic of ambition in Goethe’s Faust. This post is a stab at such an essay.

    The word “Faustian” is frequently used in books, articles, blog posts, etc on all sorts of topics. I think the image that most people have of Faust is of a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for dangerous knowledge: sort of a mad-scientist type. This may be true of earlier versions of the Faust legend, but I think it’s a misreading (or more likely a non-reading) of Goethe’s definitive version.

    Faust, at the time when the devil first appears to him, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge–in many different scholarly disciplines–and is totally frustrated and in despair about the whole thing. It is precisely the desire to do something other than to pursue abstract knowledge that leads him to engage in his fateful bargain with Mephistopheles.

    If it’s not the pursuit of abstract knowledge, then what ambition drives Faust to sell his soul? C S Lewis suggests that his motivations are entirely practical: he wants “gold and guns and girls.” This is partly true, but is by no means the whole story.

    Certainly, Faust does like girls. Very early in the play, he encounters a young woman who strikes his fancy:

    FAUST: My fair young lady, may I make free
    To offer you my arm and company?
    GRETCHEN: I’m neither fair nor lady, pray
    Can unescorted find my way
    FAUST: God, what a lovely child! I swear
    I’ve never seen the like of her
    She is so dutiful and pure
    Yet not without a pert allure
    Her rosy lip, her cheek aglow
    I never shall forget, I know
    Her glance’s timid downward dart
    Is graven deeply in my heart!
    But how she was so short with me–
    That was consummate ecstasy!


    Immediately following this meeting, Faust demands Mephisto’s magical assistance in the seduction of Gretchen. It’s noteworthy that he insists on this help despite the facts that (a)he brags to the devil that he is perfectly capable of seducing a girl like Gretchen on his own, without any diabolical assistance, and (b)a big part of Gretchen’s appeal is clearly that she seems so difficult to win–a difficulty that will be short-circuited by Mephisto’s help.

    Mephisto, of course, complies with Faust’s demand…this devil honors his contracts…and Faust’s seduction of Gretchen leads directly to the deaths of her mother, her child by Faust, her brother, and to Gretchen’s own execution.

    Diabolical magic also allows Faust to meet Helen of Troy (time and space are quite fluid in this play) whom he marries and impregnates, resulting in the birth of their child Euphorion.

    So, per Lewis, yes, Faust is definitely motivated by the pursuit of women. But this is only a small part of the complex structure of ambition that Goethe has given his protagonist.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Deep Thoughts, Germany, Philosophy, Poetry, Political Philosophy | 6 Comments »

    A Friday Diversion – Secondary Education

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th August 2016 (All posts by )

    (Yes, I am working very hard on finishing up the third Luna City Chronicle – comedy, drama, diversion, small-town hi-jinks, and all … oh, and as an extra? Behold the logo for the Mighty Fighting Moths of Luna City, courtesy of my brother Alex, the graphics artist!)
    MM_Art_Final

    It was part of Richard’s gradual acceptance into the community of Luna City – as a pillar of the same in his office as manager/cook of the Luna Café and Coffee – that he take a turn in the old home economics classroom of Luna City’s secondary school teaching a necessary adult survival skill to twenty or so sixteen and seventeen year old students. The high school was named for Hernando “Nando” Gonzales, the legendary jet fighter ace of the Korean War and native son of Luna City; the adult survival skills course had been the mind-blowing stroke of genius on the part of Nando’s second cousin once removed, Geronimo “Jerry” Gonzales while serving as Luna City Superintendent of Schools. A series of adult experts offered an educational smorgasbord; household budgeting and basic income-tax return preparation, simple auto and household trouble-shooting, repairs and maintenance, First Aid … and Richard had been tapped for a week of cooking classes. The class met in a room which had been set up to facilitate cooking lessons, back in the decades when that meant cooking and sewing instruction for girls; five fully-equipped kitchenettes and a central instruction area with an overhead mirror over the prep-area and cooktop. Richard felt oddly at home on the very first day, although it was jarring to be addressed as ‘sir’ or Mr. Astor-Hall. And he felt terribly old, when he made a reference to Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet, on the very first day, and had to explain it to a roomful of baffled teenagers. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters | 4 Comments »

    A Diversion on a Friday

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 22nd July 2016 (All posts by )

    (In the light of the mostly depressing news this week and today – I present a short chapter from the next Luna City Chronicle – which we aim to have completed for release in November, 2016)

    Dance with the Bunny Boiler in the Pale Moonlight

    Some weeks after Romeo Gonzales arrived and set up his own campsite in the near-deserted Age of Aquarius, Richard pedaled up the road – deftly avoiding the ruts, bumps and puddles that nature and the passage of the occasional heavy vehicle had scoured into the clay-like soil with the skill of experience. It had rained lightly the night before, so puddles there were in plenty, and the fresh new grass had begun just raising tender new blades coyly between the old dead hay of the previous season.
    On the whole, he had found Romeo Gonzales to be a congenial neighbor, given that it was hard to be anything else at half an acre space between their trailers and workplaces some blocks distant from each other. At least, Romeo showed no inclination to conspire together with malignantly-inclined micro-media operatives to ambush him at the door with lights, cameras and harassing commentary, unlike the egregious Penn. Who, in concordance with the injunction delivered through Jess, showed every inclination of making himself scarce whenever Richard was around. Richard was profoundly glad of that, not least because he treasured his afternoons of solitary contemplation of the pleasant but uninspiring landscape and his studies in Larousse.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Diversions | 7 Comments »

    A Friday Book Diversion

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 13th May 2016 (All posts by )

    Second_Chronicle_of_LC.inddThe Chronicles of Luna City proved to be so popular and my daughter and I had so many ideas for further plot developments, that it was only a small chore to produce a sequel, involving the search for a trove of gold coins and ingots supposedly hidden somewhere on Mills Farm by the reprobate bootlegger Old Charley Mills a hundred years ago, and a movie being shot on location around Luna City, which might very well be not all that it seemed when the project was pitched to the residents of Luna City. The Second Chronicle of Luna City is now up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in Kindle and Nook ebook versions, and will be available by next week in print. (It’s also available direct from us, through the Luna City website.

    Below the fold – a sample chapter for your Friday diversion.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Diversions | 4 Comments »

    Another Round of Puppy Saddening

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 8th April 2016 (All posts by )

    I have written previously about the melt-down of the last Hugo Awards (here and here) so I don’t think I need recapitulate the whole multi-year saga. If you are seriously into science fiction, you already know, if you aren’t, it’ll merely be of minor academic interest. I keep coming back to as a writer with a mild interest in science fiction generally, and a slightly more intense one in how a particular progressive and insular mind-set manages to warp the heck out of book publishing and marketing the same to the masses, and because I have on-line acquaintances who are passionately interested in the matter. These interests tend to be infectious, I’ll have you know.

    It had begun to seem in the last few years – especially to science fiction fans – that what was being published, marketed, and lauded by the critical luminaries in science fiction circles was actually not terribly readable. It was increasing precious, depressing, literary in the worst interpretation of the word (pretentious, pointless and prizing showy effects in the use of language over plot, characterization and possibility) and that the gender, skin color and sexual/political orientation of the author mattered more than being able to write a cracking good yarn. Too many books were, in Sarah Hoyt’s phrase, grey goo – the written-word equivalent of Filboid Studge.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Current Events | 12 Comments »

    Getting deeper into Koestler

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th March 2016 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — on creativity at the intersection of the fleeting and the eternal ]
    .

    centaur skeleton
    Centaur, displayed in the International Wildlife Museum, Tucson, AZ

    **

    You know Lao Tzu’s “uncarved wood” (pu) — and Spencer Brown’s “Mark” or “first distinction? It is hard to speak of “the one and the many” without language itself favoring the many, the one being “one” and the many “another”. The Greek phrase “Before Abraham was, I am” attributed to Christ may be as close as we get.

    The “uncarved wood” is not some definite -– named and thus defined -– “one” -– it is also “raw silk” (su), the simple -– the natural way or stream, from which things have not yet been separated out by naming.

    There is delight, however, both in one becoming two and thus many, in the making of distinctions and naming of names, and no less in two (or the many) becoming one, in the resolution of paradox, the release of tension, peace after strife. In human terms, there is joy in both solo and collaborative achievement.

    What better, then, than the perfect fit between disparate entities?

    I have written often enough about Arthur Koestler and the place where two disparate spheres of thought link up — the centaur links horse and man in an indissoluble unity — there’s no question here of dismounting after a ride, giving the horse a rub down and some feed, then retiring to the verandah for a whiskey…

    The mythological aha! we get from the centaur displayed in the museum hinges on the fit of horse and human skeletons, the perfection with which disparates are joined.

    **

    Thus far, whenever I’ve discussed Koestler‘s notion of bisociation, I’ve focused on the sense that it liea at the heart of creativity. Koestler himself takes it deeper. Here’s Nicholas Vajifdar, in a review titled Summing Up Arthur Koestler’s Janus: A Summing Up:

    Koestler .. asserts that there are two planes of existence, the trivial and the tragic. The trivial plane is the stage for paying bills, shopping, working. Most of life takes place on the trivial plane. But sometimes we’re swept up into the tragic plane, usually due to some catastrophe, and everything becomes glazed with an awful significance. From the point of view of the tragic plane, the trivial plane is empty and frivolous; from the point of view of the trivial plane, the tragic plane is embarrassing and overwrought. Once we’ve moved from one plane to the other, we forget why we could have felt the way we used to.

    That’s not just any old distinction between two realms, that’s the one Koestler himself prioritizes. And following his basic principle that a creative spark is lit when two disparate “planes of ideas” intersect, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find Vajifdar continuing:

    “The highest form of human creativity,” Koestler writes, “is the endeavor to bridge the gap between the two planes. Both the artist and the scientist are gifted — or cursed — with the faculty of perceiving the trivial events of everyday experience sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of eternity…”

    William Blake made a similar observation in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, writing:

    Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

    Finally, Vajifdar tells us why he finds Koestler’s definition of art maybe the best he’s ever read:

    What I value in this definition of creativity is its emphasis on the subjective being of those who experience the work of art or scientific theory, a surer gauge than cataloguing formal properties or whether it's "interesting." Art has always seemed like a kind of sober drunkenness, or drunken sobriety. Most people probably have wondered whether the feelings they felt while drunk were more or less real than their sober feelings. Koestlerian art joins these seemingly irreconcilable feelings together.

    Let’s just go one step further. In Promise and Fulfilment – Palestine 1917-1949, Koestler specifically singles out this intersection as an aspect of the experience of warfare:

    This intense and perverse peace, superimposed on scenes of flesh-tearing and eardrum-splitting violence, is an archetype of war-experience. Grass never smells sweeter than in a dug-out during a bombardment when one’s face is buried in the earth. What soldier has not seen that caterpillar crawling along a crack in the bark of the tree behind which he took cover, and pursuing its climb undisturbed by the spattering of his tommy-gun? This intersecting of the tragic and the trivial planes of existence has always obsessed me in the Spanish Civil War, during the collapse of France, in the London blitz.

    **

    I am grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration, and that on the glamour of war which will follow it.

    Posted in Advertising, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Culture, Miscellaneous, Philosophy, War and Peace | 2 Comments »